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Hall of Famer content to pass up pro basketball

| Saturday, Oct. 17, 2015, 12:01 a.m.
Bernard J. Peterson, of Ligonier, died Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2015. He was 80.
Bernard J. Peterson, of Ligonier, died Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2015. He was 80.

Despite an All-American basketball career at St. Vincent College, Bernie Peterson passed up a chance to try out for the Detroit Pistons because of his height.

At “barely” 6 feet, “he didn't think he was tall enough to compete with the likes of Jerry West and Bill Russell,” said his wife of 45 years, Jean Ann (Makowski) Peterson.

Bernard J. Peterson of Ligonier died Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2015, in Excela Latrobe Hospital. He was 80.

Born April 4, 1935, in Greensburg, a son of the late Nils and Mary (Chislock) Peterson, he was the second All-American at St. Vincent, earning the title in 1959. Jack Kalbus won it in 1958. Some of Mr. Peterson's shooting records stood for nearly 40 years.

“He didn't look like a basketball player, but he sure played like one,” said Oland “Dodo” Canterna, 89, of Latrobe, who coached him at St. Vincent. “He was very talented, quick, and he knew the game.”

Mr. Peterson and teammate Harry Folk were the first St. Vincent players to surpass the 1,000-point plateau, scoring 1,381 points and 1,575 points, respectively.

He had no regrets about missing a chance to play in the NBA, his wife said.

Mr. Peterson played in the Maurice Stokes benefit basketball game, where he was named MVP, and was inducted into the Westmoreland County Sports Hall of Fame in 1984.

Off the court, he was kind, compassionate and generous, said Kathy Palson of Raleigh, his wife's cousin.

“Nothing was too much trouble for family,” she said.

While he gave a lot, he wasn't above asking for a handout, especially a sweet one.

When he would visit Palson and her husband, “he'd always say to me, ‘Got any cake?' ” she recalled.

Mr. Peterson graduated from St. Vincent with a degree in business administration and was employed by the Postal Service. He retired in 1999.

He was a member of Holy Trinity Catholic Church, Ligonier, and The Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks, Latrobe.

In addition to his parents, he was preceded in death by a brother, William.

He is survived by his wife; a sister, Karen Smith of Butler; a brother, Paul Peterson of Ann Arbor, Mich.; and many nieces, nephews and great-nieces and great-nephews.

A funeral Mass will be at 10 a.m. Saturday in Holy Trinity Catholic Church, 342 W. Main St., Ligonier, with the Rev. John M. Foriska as celebrant. Interment will follow in Greensburg Catholic Cemetery.

Arrangements are by Kepple-Graft Funeral Home, 524 N. Main St., Greensburg.

In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to the St. Vincent College Men's Basketball Team, 300 Fraser Purchase Road, Latrobe, PA 15650.

Craig Smith is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5646 or

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